Marty Singer Breaks Down the Art of the Cease-and-Desist Letter

Power Lawers 2012

This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When New York magazine went after client Brett Ratner, Marty Singer returned fire. He breaks down the letter he sent to editor Adam Moss for THR.

Identify the issue

In November, New York magazine published on its Vulture blog a story claiming that Tower Heist director Brett Ratner worked for a corrupt New York stock brokerage while a student at NYU. Singer sprang into action, firing off a letter disputing the allegations. “Facts facts facts,” he says of his strategy in crafting letters.

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Cite the law

Singer’s letters often contain detailed legal precedent, including examples of similar cases. “You need to point out the law and get some good cases in there to try to establish whatever your legal theory is,” he says. “Make them recognize their exposure.”

1. The subject

2. Expect the letter will leak

Because many media outlets now publish lawyer letters, Singer crafts his correspondence with the nonlegally trained reader in mind. Hence the claim that the story “makes my client look like a crook,” he writes. “When you’re sending something to the media, you’ve got to be concerned that whatever you say will be coming out,” he says.

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3. Use the correct language

To survive a First Amendment challenge, Hollywood defamation cases require the aggrieved to show “actual malice” by the media outlet or a “reckless disregard” for the truth. So Singer is careful to use that exact language in his letters. “Defamation is the toughest part of the law to prevail on in America, especially for a celebrity,” he says. “It’s important to demonstrate malice or recklessness.”

4. Explain the problem

Singer’s reference to an “unidentified source hiding behind a cloak of anonymity” lets the publication know that he intends to challenge the origin of the story. “You can’t just say something is false. You’ve got to tell them why they should have known it was false,” he says.

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Brevity counts

Singer’s two-page letter is about the right length to get his point across. “I try not to make the letters too long,” he says. “Bert Fields never writes one more than a paragraph long.”

5. The outcome

The headline was changed, but the story remains online.